After years of anticipation, 2019 is expected to mark the start of the 5G era — and with good reason, given the recent attainment of landmarks in the 3GPP standardization process and the launch of early commercial networks in the U.S. and South Korea.
Yet the fact that AT&T is apparently planning to swap out the 4G logo for “5G E” — aka 4.5G — on smartphones is just one example of how the sustained 5G hype is being allowed to spin out of control. Although T-Mobile US was quick to criticize AT&T, with CEO John Legere taking to Twitter to lambast its rival for “misleading customers,” the self-styled Un-carrier has itself been stoking the embers of 5G hype with a consumer index that suggests “expectations are high” for the new technology.
What’s more, T-Mobile trumpeted a successful 5G data call and video call as being the world’s first using the 600 MHz spectrum band. Although it is one of the few carriers in the world both working on 5G and having access to spectrum in that band.
GSMA Intelligence (GSMAi) has now launched a timely report somewhat aptly entitled 5G’s Great Expectations, which like the T-Mobile consumer index examines what people are anticipating from the first wave of 5G network and device launches. Unlike the T-Mobile index, the report acknowledges that consumers are not currently expecting 5G to revolutionize their mobile experience. While that might seem a surprising message from an offshoot of the GSM Association, the initial disastrous experience with 3G alone behooves the mobile industry association to ensure experience meets expectations with every new cycle.
Indeed, only one in four consumers surveyed said they expect 5G to deliver ‘innovative new services,’ and only 20 percent said they believe 5G will usher in a new era of devices. As noted by Peter Jarich, head of GSMAi, “while smartphones remain the dominant consumer technology, device vendors and operators are looking to 5G to unlock a new chapter in the smartphone growth story – even though our research suggests there is still work to do to convince consumers of the benefits of the move to 5G.”
The report found that more than half of consumers in developed countries (54 percent) expect 5G networks to deliver faster speeds. But that finding is not that surprising given that each new mobile network generation has generally provided better speeds. You only have to contrast 4G with 3G to understand why subscribers would expect more from 5G. As GSMAi points out, “consumers currently see 5G as the logical continuation of previous generations of mobile technology – doing the same thing, just better.”
More worryingly, it is not yet clear if consumers will pay a premium for faster speeds — which means operators will need to press home the myriad advantages of 5G, including higher speeds and capacity and lower latency, without resorting to trickery and subterfuge that could ultimately backfire.
It comes as little surprise that consumers in South Korea showed the highest level of expectation that 5G would deliver innovative new services. “From the first live trials at the Winter Olympics, to agreements to launch simultaneously in order to avoid excessive marketing costs and to share deployment costs, a focused and pragmatic approach has led consumer expectations,” GSMAi commented.
So what’s the advice? The research unit suggests that operators should follow the Korean example with more focused messaging on 5G, while also building on their LTE assets to maximize impact. Regulators are counseled to get the right kind of spectrum allocations out there fast, ensuring operators have access to sufficient bandwidth (contiguous 100 MHz blocks) in key spectrum bands (sub-1 GHz, 1-6 GHz and above 6 GHz).
Finally, network and OSS/BSS vendors are expected to face a potential deluge of work in 2019/2020 as network operators turn to them for support with commercial 5G launches. “This is likely to accelerate the shift to a consulting/managed service relationship with operators,” the report said.